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Five things we’ve learnt from setting a zero carbon target

Six months ago our UK business made a commitment to be carbon free by 2025. It’s a bold commitment – the boldest in our sector – and one which we’re now hard at work implementing. David Symons, our UK Director of Sustainability, shares five lessons we’ve learnt over the past six months. They’re relevant for all organisations planning an ambitious environmental programme.


1. Colleagues and clients have given us huge endorsement: Our zero carbon announcement was our most well received announcement for 2017 both internally and externally.  Our UK staff have given us a huge endorsement, and our clients have given us great feedback.  More than one client has used our leadership as evidence to be more ambitious in their own programmes.

2. Convincing our leadership team was almost the easiest part:  Convincing leaders can be difficult, but we found our leadership team ambitious to lead and fully supportive of a progressive environmental programme.

3. A strong route map is essential: Of course it’s easy to make a commitment and then leave it to chance.  To tackle this, we’ve developed a practical model which sets out how our carbon footprint is likely to changes into the future.  This helps us see how much each action will contribute and brings real focus to the actions that count.

4. Addressing flights is our largest challenge: With some of the world’s very best engineers, environmentalists and planners we’ve a strong plan to address building emissions.  But flights are an inherent part of a global consultant’s work, so this is where most of our imaginative planning is focussed at the moment.  This will cover investment in next generation IT to reduce the need to fly.  And look out for some more leading programmes in 2018 in this area to engage our teams.

5. Flexibility is important in a growing business:  Finally while we can plan all we want, it’s important to recognise the need to be flexible.  In the UK, WSP has grown from 3,000 staff in late 2014 to 7,640 today.  We’ve welcomed new colleagues from Mouchel and Opus into the UK in the past 18 months, and we’ll continue to grow.  So we won’t stick to a rigid plan, but use our carbon neutral ambitions to set us apart and provide a real source of pride to our new staff.

We’re passionate that a business with more than a 1,000 environmental consultants should set an environmental lead itself.  We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far and we’ll continue to share our learnings.  Do feel free to share yours’ in return and to drop me a line at David.symons@wsp.com